Tackling racism starts with our own learning at CIS
Tackling racism starts with our own learning at CIS
Kate Taverner headshot


By Kate Taverner


What does it mean to be a membership community that promises to ‘shape the future of international education’ and play a part in developing the global citizens of the future?

Since the death of George Floyd on 25 May, it means that we, at CIS, have been in an ongoing process of scrutinising our mission, behaviours and practices to expose the ways in which we are accountable to helping ourselves and our members to address the issue of racism, equity, and diversity in international education. 

As our Executive Director Jane Larsson recently said in an email to our members “Our progress will depend on strong foundational concepts grounded in being self-reflective, deliberate, and evaluative. Taking time to develop and strengthen our foundations—individually and institutionally—is essential, no matter how progressive or rudimentary we may be in our thinking and actions.”

Our work has begun to purposefully and intentionally ‘tackle racism’ as we lay the groundwork with our own foundational learning and listening exercises.

I recently joined my global teammates for two events to get us started: a workshop to explore our implicit biases and another led by a guest speaker at one of our weekly global team meetings where we considered “What if we centred equity in accreditation?”


Implicit biases

This workshop was a staff-only opportunity that kickstarts the foundational series for members: Tackling Racism Workshop Series: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in our Schools and Universities. We learned from educational researchers Dr Eeqbal Hassim and Cynthia Roberson about the foundational skills that are necessary to fully understand and address the bias and discrimination facing non-dominant racial and cultural groups in our community.

A series of seemingly simple quick poll questions at the start got us all thinking and immediately challenged my understanding of how unconscious biases are as damaging as explicit biases.

The balance of knowledge and guidance intertwined with personal experiences presented by Eeqbal and Cynthia gave weight to the workshop, grounding it in reality, and doing what the workshop set out to achieve—making us reflect on our own assumptions and with some recommendations for how to do more foundational work for ourselves and our communities.


When looking at your staff, your teaching teams, your leadership in international education:

If everyone in the room looks like you, there’s a problem.

—Cynthia Roberson, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Advisor, Sail2Change


7 minutes of song got us thinking about equity in accreditation

When Nicole Furlonge, Director of the Klingenstein Center at Columbia University, joined our global team meeting to get us thinking about the role of equity in accreditation, 1.5 hours whizzed by and left us using words like “outstanding”, “rich” and “thought-provoking” as we described the experience.Nicole’s plan for the workshop included almost seven minutes of song when she asked us to actively listen to Bob Dylan’s ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and reflect on his message—one that is just as relevant now (if not more so) than it was at the time it was written almost 60 years ago—around the ethics of taking time to notice hard truths, and then taking the time to ask what you’re going to do about them.

The song was an inspiring way to anchor our thoughts as we went on to consider ideas that might allow us to reimagine and reshape the future of accreditation. As Nicole challenged us, “What is the responsibility of accrediting organizations to lead change?”


Heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’

Bob Dylan, A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall

As Jane Larsson wrote to our global team last week, Nicole’s highly reflective session prompted important questions and observations:

  • How does equity live under the CIS definition of Global Citizenship?
  • How might our missions limit our equity work? (flipping the question)
  • How do we ‘nudge’ equity forward? “Equity is the work.”
  • Accreditation bodies are being called upon to be non-neutral. (anti-racist)
  • Accreditation = “institutional listening”, to learn, discover and transform
  • The accreditation process should yield something of substance.


How we want to take action and why

We have a lot that we want to achieve at CIS. As an organization, our CIS Board of Trustees has formed a Committee on Inclusion through Diversity, Equity and Anti-racism to advance our work (look for an update on this committee in the next CIS News) and we have recorded webinars on this topic for members plus launching these workshops. As individuals and staff members, we were asked to provide a few words at the end of the workshop addressing 'what' we each will take into action, and 'why'?

Speech bubble_icon


Responses from my Global Team colleagues:

Reflect more deeply on the questions and language I use when I visit schools and talk with stakeholders. Because I understand now how my own implicit biases can influence the way in which I pose these questions. As Cynthia reminded us, it is a skill we need to purposefully revisit continually and we get better at it over time.”—Sudha Govindswamy, School Support & Evaluation Officer

Add more reflection time when setting up processes/procedures, to make sure we're identifying biases and taking action to address them.”—Liliana Gambin, Executive Assistant for Governance & Human Resources

"Reconsider practices around hiring and team building.”—Cécile Doyen, Associate Director of School Support & Evaluation

"A renewed conviction to look deeply at the implicit bias behind my/our practices.”—Nunana Nyomi, Associate Director Higher Education Services

”Revisit concepts/language that we use and reflect on the accreditation framework.”—Chris Durbin, Associate Director of School Support & Evaluation

Speech bubble_icon


Here are some of their post-workshop reflections:

"I came away from the Tackling Racism workshop with so many helpful tactics and pieces of information. Tackling this topic begins with educating myself so the first thing which I did was to download "Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning", which was recommended by one of the speakers, to my Kindle and educate myself about the history of racism in my own country.”—Susan Woods, School Services Advisor

"This was a stimulating and well-planned workshop, albeit immersive experience, that facilitated my own self-reflection as an international educator. It was also useful because it gave me a set of concepts, terminology and resources that will help me support schools as they engage with it in their unique contexts. I would recommend it to other educators because it put a few more tools in the toolbox that I didn't have before!"—Leo Thompson, School Support & Evaluation Officer

"The workshop made evident the difficulty of identifying implicit biases in organizations. It allowed us to do an initial assessment to identify those biases and learn strategies to tackle them. I very much enjoyed the combination of theoretical knowledge, personal experiences and dynamic group work that we engaged during the workshop.”—Alejandra Neyra, Data Analyst/BI Manager


Addressing implicit biases, intercultural competence and achieving equity, establishing structures and systems

With more than 220 members registered for the Tackling Racism Workshop Series from October to December, we look forward to continuing this work in collaboration with our community.


Related content that helps us tackle racism together



Tackling racism starts with our own learning at CIS